Mumbai - It was supposed to be a quiet candlelight peace march to state government headquarters—the second such procession since the terrorist attack on Bombay ended. But by 6:30 p.m. on the evening of Dec. 3, the march had turned into a spontaneous crowd of thousands, walking quietly with discipline and determination. They wore T-shirts that stated "Enough is Enough" and carried banners saying: "You come to our land and take our lives, but you can never take our spirit"; "The pride of India is bleeding"; and, referring to the scorned political class, "Some criminals come by boat, the others come by vote" and "Beware, politicians ahead." Then, every so often, groups within the massive demonstration would stop and belt out the Indian national anthem. Rash Pal, a reporter from Kashmir who came to cover the Bombay siege, said he'd seen a lot of terrorism over the years, but "I've never seen such a response from the people. It's an eye-opener."
This is Bombay, a city of 16 million that's almost a country by itself. It's the "golden songbird" of India, as author Suketu Mehta describes it; its streets have always been paved with gold. Millions migrate to Bombay because they can somehow make a living—and if they're lucky, they can even make a fortune. My family is one of those migrants: My parents fled to Bombay from Sindh, Pakistan, years after the partition of the two countries in 1947. Bombay gave us all refuge, it gave us jobs, it gave us smarts, glamor, and sophistication. "I'm from Bombay," I still say with a certain sniffy air when asked where I come from. Not from Mumbai—the name change was foisted on the city in 1995 by local politicians for local reasons. To its globally minded citizens, the metropolis will always be Bombay.
Its infrastructure is dilapidated, but Bombay is India's richest city—economically, culturally, intellectually, creatively. It has always been, and still is, India's face to the world. The Taj and Oberoi hotels embody the Bombay that showcases India's potential. The service is superlative, on a par with, and sometimes better than, any other in the world. The newcomer's introduction to India is usually a visit to the historic Taj—either the actual monument, the Mughal Taj Mahal in Agra, or the namesake hotel in Bombay, opposite the Gateway of India, an arch built by the British to commemorate King George V's 1911 visit to his bejeweled empire in the East.
My friend Nidhi Sinha, who was born in Patna, Bihar, but who grew up in the U.S., remembers returning to visit relatives, with a mandatory stopover in Bombay—at the Taj, of course. "We spent hours at the Gateway just looking at the waves and the Taj. You don't have to be from Bombay to understand that; you just have to have been there once to know it," Sinha says. Then she adds: "It's like those terrorists pushed their way right into my home."
That feeling of violation has hit Bombay and those of us who love it. The city has been attacked by terrorists three times since 2003. But each time, Bombaywallas have picked up the torn pieces of their hearts, stitched them back together, and moved on. Marches are common after any trauma, man-made or Lord-made; everyone participates. The shops reopen quickly: The Leopold Caf, riddled with bullets on Nov. 26, is already serving customers again. We know the drill well.
This time, though, the peace marches are just one of many initiatives across the city, and we are all repeating the slogan on the T-shirt: Enough is enough. Bombay's businessmen, who move in rarefied physical spaces and who during the boom acquired private jets and yachts—which were anchored in the sea in front of the Taj—are shaken. The Taj and the Oberoi are their watering holes, places where deals are made and alliances forged. Now they are saying, "How can we change things so this doesn't happen again? How do we make our politicians accountable?"